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Yoga Korunta

Life & Politics

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Location: United States

One learns, as nothing endures but change.

24 October 2006

Tuesday's Word: superstition

A Superstition is the irrational belief that future events are influenced by specific behaviors, without having a causal relationship.

Examples of superstitions vary greatly from one country to another:

An example of a superstition that is commonly believed by the public is astrology.
A gambler may credit a winning streak in poker to a lucky rabbit's foot or to sitting in a certain chair, rather than to skill or to the law of averages.
In Afghanistan it is said that if you see a magpie sitting on a wall, a message will be coming for you.
In India it is considered bad luck if someone sneezes while you are leaving your house. The remedy is to come back into the house and wait for a few hours before leaving.
In the Tampa, Florida area it has long been believed alligator sightings cause athlete’s foot.
In China people say that one should not sweep or dust on New Year's Day lest good fortune also be swept away.
In Italy there is the fear of the 17 instead of the 13 or the 4. It comes from Ancient Rome, where 17 was written as XVII, which can be re-arranged as VIXI in the meaning of "I have lived", so "I'm dead".
An accidental burn on the left ring finger means one is soon to be engaged.
Brides on their wedding day often do not see their groom until the ceremony, believing that to do so causes bad luck.
Some people turn back from a journey if a black cat crosses their path, although, some countries, such as Britain, believe it is lucky to see a black cat. An alleged cause for this would be that Emperor Napoleon saw a black cat just before a lost battle against the British. This would explain black cat being seen as a bad sign in France (and Continental Europe) and as a good one in Great Britain.[citation needed]
Among African Americans it is considered unlucky to sweep someone with a broom while cleaning the house.
Many believe that if you can blow out all of the candles on your birthday cake with one breath while making a silent wish, your wish will come true. In addition, many people believe that if you cause the knife to touch the bottom of your birthday cake while making the first cut in the cake, your wish will not come true.
Tetraphobia (the fear of the number 4) is widespread in Japan, China, and Korea; the number's use is minimized or avoided where possible. This is because the word for 4, shi, is homophonous with the word for death. Mobile numbers with 4 in them sell for less and some buildings even skip the level four, labeling it the 5th floor instead. However, there is another word for four in Japan that does not also mean death: yon. In Korea, number '4' is pronounced as 'sa(사 四)' and is homonymous with 'death(사 死)'. Some, but not all, Korean buildings have the fourth floor written as 'F' floor.
Triskaidekaphobia, the fear of the number 13, is common among those of European descent.
Baseball superstitions are numerous.
Some believe that if you see a magpie, you must salute it with the words "Hello Mr. magpie, how's your wife and family?" or bad luck will follow, unless you see two magpies, which is good luck.
It is also a common belief that breaking a mirror will bring seven years of ill fortune.
Some believe that walking under a ladder will bring bad luck.
Opening an umbrella inside the house is purported to bring bad luck.
Entering a house left leg first is sometimes thought to bring bad luck.
In Western America it is supposed that if one holds one's breath from the start of a tunnel to the end of it, one may make a silent wish.
In some countries an owl is a bad omen; in others it is a good sign because owls make their sounds when a dangerous animal is near.
Some people believe that if you give someone a handbag as a gift, you must place a coin in the handbag, otherwise the handbag will bring the recipient bad luck.
Some people believe that it will bring bad luck if you give someone a knife as a gift, and to avoid the bad luck the recipient should exchange the knife for some money (even if it is just one coin), so that "technically" they "bought" the knife, rather than received it as a gift.
In theatre and drama it is considered bad luck to say "Good luck" on opening night. "Break a leg" is substituted.
When producing the play Macbeth, it is considered bad luck to say the title and main character's name. Whenever one needs to mention the play's title it is appropriate to refer to it as "The Scottish Play" instead.
In the Middle East (notably Egypt), some people believe that cutting the air with scissors brings about animosity.
In many parts of Europe, "Break a leg" is substituted with the regional colloquialism for excrement. This is a tradition that dates back to times when horses were the primary means of travel, either directly or by carriage. When a spectacle had been well reviewed or advertised, there would be many horses in front of the theatre, and thus copious amounts of horse excrement.
It is a common superstition that using a red lighter is bad luck.

In the academic discipline of folkloristics the term "superstition" is used to denote any folk belief expressed in if/then (with an optional "unless" clause) format. If you break a mirror, then you will have seven years of bad luck unless you throw all of the pieces into a body of running water. In this usage, the term is not pejorative.

Superstitions are based on general, culturally variable beliefs in a supernatural "reality". Depending on a given culture's belief set, its superstitions may relate to things that are not fully understood or known, such as cemeteries, animals, demons, a devil, deceased ancestors, the weather, gambling, sports, food, holidays, occupations, excessive scrupulosity, death, luck, and/or Spirits. Urban legends are also sometimes classed as superstition, especially if the moral of the legend is to justify fears about socially alien people or conditions.

Superstition, as of today's understanding, is thought to derive from the both meanings of Latin 'superstes' composed on super (over, beyond), -sto (to stand):

one who attends, can witness
one who survives

The 'superstitio' was the gift of narrating events as if one had attended and survived them. This capability of the 'superstitious' was associated with divination, which when not performed by a regular augur, was held in contempt as charlatanism. As a result, the superstitio became synonymous with "despisable religious beliefs", as antithetic with 'religio', the accepted official or traditional religion.

Thus, the English word "superstition," as understood from its original Latin meaning, implies a religion-like belief that stands outside the bounds of clerical religion.

In modern English, the term "superstition" is also used to refer to folkloric belief systems, often with the intention of casting negative, derogatory, or belittling scorn upon another culture's concept of the spiritual world.

Many Superstitions rose up before and during the time of the Black Plague that swept over Europe. During the time of the Black Plague, the pope passed a law that you must say "God Bless You" when somebody sneezes, this was said to prevent the spread of the disease and to cure whoever already had it. Of course, this was only superstition.

In keeping with the Latin etymology of the word, religious believers have often seen other religions as superstition. Likewise, atheists, agnostics, deists, and skeptics regard religious belief as superstition. (Edmund Burke, the Irish orator, once said, "Superstition is the religion of weak minds".) From the broadest perspective, all religion is a form of superstition.

Religious practices are most likely to be labelled "superstitious" by outsiders when they include belief in extraordinary events, supernatural interventions, apparitions or the efficacy of charms, incantations, the meaningfulness of omens, and prognostications.

Greek and Roman pagans, who modeled their relations with the gods on political and social terms scorned the man who constantly trembled with fear at the thought of the gods, as a slave feared a cruel and capricious master. "Such fear of the gods (deisidaimonia) was what the Romans meant by 'superstition' (Veyne 1987, p 211). For Christians just such fears might be worn proudly as a name: Desdemona.

The Roman Catholic Church considers superstition to be sinful in the sense that it denotes a lack of trust in the divine providence of God and, as such, is a violation of the first of the Ten Commandments. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states superstition "in some sense represents a perverse excess of religion" (para. #2110).

The Catechism clearly dispels commonly held preconceptions or misunderstandings about Catholic doctrine relating to superstitious practices:

Superstition is a deviation of religious feeling and of the practices this feeling imposes. It can even affect the worship we offer the true God, e.g., when one attributes an importance in some way magical to certain practices otherwise lawful or necessary. To attribute the efficacy of prayers or of sacramental signs to their mere external performance, apart from the interior dispositions that they demand is to fall into superstition. Cf. Matthew 23:16-22 (para. #2111)

Superstitions differ from magic spells in that the former are generally passive if/then constructs while the latter contain formulae, recipes, petitions, prayers, and love songs for effecting future outcomes by means of supernatural, symbolic, and perhaps non-causal activities.

People who otherwise accept scientific de-mystification of the supernal world and do not consider themselves to be occultists or practitioners of magic, still may consider that it is "better to be safe than be sorry" and observe or transmit some or many of the superstitions endemic to their cultures.

Bloggers, this is a big word! Thanks, again, to Catherine for helping us to understand the difference between truth and stories of men who walk on water. Were it not for organized religion and an uneducated public we may not have this word!

5 Comments:

Blogger barbie2be said...

i'm not a superstitious person. my OCD couldn't handle that. ;)

14:03  
Blogger Joe Zombie said...

I'm not superstitious either, Yoga. ;)

20:18  
Blogger Yoga Korunta said...

Barbie, stay compliant with your medication!

Timmy, ignorance of science is the first sign of a bible thumper. Good to know that you are among the elite and that you support education. Just think of those poor folks in Kansas who believe in creationism.

How many of their children will go to medical school?

23:38  
Blogger Joe Zombie said...

I believe that waterbording would be an appropriate word to post on some day.

19:56  
Blogger Yoga Korunta said...

Timmy, this blogger is a humanist who deplores the idea of human suffering. Perhaps the worst elements of the GOP would be enlightened to read of torture. Your word is now in line.

Then, there may be the unintended consequence of entertaining them.

20:26  

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